I always want to jump to Martha’s defense, when I read Jesus’ response to her complaint. Her sister has left her to do all the work, and the Lord seems to dismiss her worry. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried,” he says. “There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
“Just like a man,” it’s easy to think. “Does he think the food will serve itself?” The answer, of course, is that Jesus isn’t commenting on the dinner but on how frazzled Martha is. If Mary’s forgotten to serve in her focus on Jesus, Martha’s forgotten Jesus in her zeal to serve. The “better part” is needed if the other thing is ever going to get done without anxiety.
I’ve written before on this passage, several times—always zeroing in on Martha. But there is much we can learn from Mary, too, if we want to get in on that “better part.” We only get one verse about her, but it’s rich with detail:
When Mary left the serving behind, she didn’t look back. Her posture tells all. She’s not standing by the door in case she has to leave, she is sitting down. Mary has committed herself, body and soul, to stay a while with Jesus.
…beside the Lord
Mary’s not in the doorway in case Martha calls, but neither is she sitting on a soft couch by her friends. She’s next to the Lord. When she sits by him, he fills her whole horizon. There are no distractions.
…at his feet
From the floor at Jesus’ feet, Mary looks up. She’s not there to give her opinion, she has no agenda, she’s there to learn. Mary has placed herself humbly before her Lord. She gives him the undivided attention of the student.
…listening to him speak.”
Mary is all ears.
Just one chapter before this, God spoke from a cloud: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Lk 9:35, italics mine). How can we listen, truly, when we are distracted with duties and worry? Mary has “chosen the better part” by giving Jesus her undivided attention and listening to what he has to say. She hasn’t divorced her body and mind, convinced that she can attend to two things at once. By being “all in,” she is able to hear.
We, too, can be Mary
We who are more Martha than Mary find it second-nature to multi-task. How often have I prayed “on the fly” – on the way to work; while I stir the soup; as I make the beds? “Lord, forgive me” is my prayer – “I don’t have time today!” I happen to think it’s a great thing to practice connecting with God in the midst of everything I do. But when I do that only, at the expense of time devoted to him alone, I lose out.
Meditating on this verse today, I’m taken back to my childhood. I see myself at 10 years old, running into the living room before anyone else can get there and claiming a seat on the floor in front of my grandfather’s chair. There’s a comfortable couch by the wall but I want to be right there, at his feet. I want to hang on every word he’s going to say, to drink it all in and never forget. I want to hear his “jungle stories”: true stories from his years as a missionary in Sumatra, China, and Japan. True stories of God’s love and deliverance from wild animals and war, illness and heartbreak. The stories from his life were just as gripping as the Old Testament accounts of David and Goliath, Elijah, Esther, and Daniel. They carried the weight of truth, like the parables that Jesus told. And why not? God is the same today as he ever was!
That 10-year-old me was listening like Mary. May I never lose the ability to listen to my Lord like that! I want to sit beside him, at his feet, listening to him speak. May I never fail to carve out part of my day just for that “better part” alone with him.
© 2017 Sarah Christmyer
Read more about listening to Jesus in his word:
- Build a Bible Reading Habit (How to meet God and hear from him in the Bible)
- A New Year’s resolution you can keep (Why and how to read the Bible on your own)
- Three Steps to Daily Bible Reading (Practical tips plus a personal reading plan to download)
- Eating Right for Your Soul (The value of memorizing Scripture)